“Technology is creating a new behaviour space for associating that doesn’t require associations,” said De Cagna, Chief Strategist and Founder of Principled Innovation LLC in Reston, Virginia. The inescapable conclusion for asssociations, he added, is that “it’s much more important for associations to create value than to drive membership.”
The self-described “association contrarian,” dubbed the “antichrist” by one association executive, urged participants to recalibrate for a world in which:
- The massive recent growth in world population and social development is directly tied to the evolution of technology, “the only powerful shaping force in the history of civilization.”
- We now trust robots—also known as algorithms—to guide some of our most intimate and consequential decisions.
- One in five people around the world owns a smart phone.
- The Kickstarter crowdfunding platform has launched 66,000 successful projects, with 6.6 million backers logging 16.5 million pledges worth more than $1.2 billion.
- Online networks have created a world in which “individual humans connected together can accomplish what once only centralized, large organizations could,” according to Silicon Valley business innovator Nilofer Merchant.
Decision Time for Associations
For associations, De Cagna said, it’s time to decide whether to embrace a networked world or quickly lose relevance. He urged participants to open “value conversations” with their communities, leaving behind a traditional model in which “’engagement’ is code for ‘send me some money so I can sell you more stuff.’”
Associations that operate in that traditional mode “are so overwrought about building membership that they’ve lost track of how to build a strong, sustainable infrastructure,” he told participants.
In addition to delivering greater value to the communities they’ve already identified, associations can gain from a more connected, relevant approach by drawing in audiences and partners who would otherwise have stayed outside the membership wall. De Cagna said one of the greatest vulnerabilities of traditional associations is their failure to “consider the stakeholders who aren’t here,” whose challenges and expectations are fundamentally different from the groups that have already affiliated.
Click here for highlights of the 2014 Engaging Associations Summit and a sneak preview of the 2015 event.